Mt. Awagatake, in the center of Niigata Prefecture, is covered in snow in winter, snow that melts and feeds into the clear, rushing Igarashi River. This makes the perfect setting for rafting, with the scenery of the seasons passing by on a ride that sometimes can be pretty exciting! IRC guide and owner Arly and three of his regular guests talk about the joys of rafting in Shitada.
Known on the river as Arly, he is a Niigata native. Applied his experiences as part of a private rescue team to found IRC in 2014. Also provides snow rafting (using a snowmobile) in winter.
Set in the midst of the mountains of Niigata Prefecture, Shitada is a great place to enjoy the changing of the seasons—and, from late April to late September it is the location for some outstanding river rafting. This roughly one-hour experience travels through the beautiful and varied landscapes of Shitada, from wholly natural areas to traditional rural scenery, through gentle sections and some exciting whitewater thrills. At the end is the unforgettable view from the water of Yagigahana, the landmark rock formation of Shitada, appearing right above the river.
“The river area was used for the training of rescue groups in the past,” Arly says, “but now, as part of the growth of Shitada as a place for a variety of activities, it’s now a place to enjoy the fun and excitement of rafting in a safe way. My experience in rescue in the past comes in perfectly today as I lead enjoyable rafting with a focus on guest safety—and fun!
“Among the repeaters at IRC are many people looking for something exciting to do in the spring. I actually recommend that repeaters, especially, do come and raft in the spring. Of course, the air and especially the water still are cold, but the river level is very high, so it’s a very different experience than in summer. During the summer months the water temperature and water flow remain stable, so beginners and children can come and enjoy rafting. So, if you’re a first-time rafter, summer might be the best choice. We’re also working hard to develop our staff so they have not just the rafting skills, but also an excellent ability to talk with guests and share their knowledge about the river and the Shitada area.”
Three young women from Niigata shared their experiences in rafting, and helped with some photography on the river. We asked them about what continues to draw them back to Shitada to enjoy rafting on the Igarashi River. All three enjoy outdoor activities, and have been regular visitors to Shitada since their first rafting experience about a year ago.
Kanami (left in photo): “Shitada is a very beautiful and natural place, but rafting provides something thrilling you can’t otherwise enjoy here! In summertime we really enjoyed jumping from the rafts into the river. It takes a little courage at first, but it’s really fun!”
Mei (center): “Right after the raft sets off there is a section of rapids called the Welcome Wave—that’s the most fun for me! We always take some photos and videos so we can remember the really fun moments later on.”
Momoka (right): “Arly-san is really interesting! I think the most important reason I became a repeater is because of his personality. Also, it’s fun to become a team with other people you meet on the raft, shooting people on other rafts with water guns—it’s great to be able to interact like that with people you’re meeting for the first time!”
There are many activities to do before and after enjoying a rafting session in Shitada. We asked Arly-san and his three guests about what people like to do here when they’re not on the water.
“We include entrance to one of the onsen (hot springs) with the rafting package,” Arly says. “The inn Rankeiso, which is nearby, has excellent hot water, so I recommend that people have a refreshing dip in this famous, but still kind of secret, Shitada onsen. There are also many shops that I could recommend, so the best way is probably to tell me what you’re interested in, and I’ll give you some special recommendations! Many of our guests also camp in Shitada, and I encourage everyone to try these kinds of experiences that can only be done in the great outdoors. We’ve added SUP to our menu as well, so that’s one more good reason to come and paddle with us here on the Igarashi River.”
“After we go rafting, I do like to stop at Rankeiso,” Mei says. They have two different rotenburo (open-air baths) there, both with their own unique feeling. Sometimes I do camp, or stay right here at Water Play Kawasemi (the attractive wooden-cabin-like facility that is the gathering spot for rafting as well). There are all kinds of side roads to explore here, so Shitada is a really good place for just relaxing and enjoying yourself.”